Hi Ken, tell us about yourself and your background.
I have over two decades of experience in the CX research with a focus on combining operational with experience data to generate business insights and global CX deployments. My prior career was in retail operations, very much a by-the-numbers and by-the-formula roles. When I was brought into market research, the first role was also operational in getting the CX analytics and reporting for our client’s 1100+ locations.
After printing out all those reports to send to each location, I knew there had to be a better way. The worldwide web was in its infancy, but I managed to put together an online tool that allowed each location to see updated data every six hours. Since then, I’ve had the privilege of helping clients in retail, hospitality, technology, travel, automotive, sports, and media better understand how to make use of the vast quantities of data that is now available but often underutilized and misinterpreted.
My areas of expertise include Data analytics & Insights, business consulting, Project/Program Management, SaaS deployments, training, senior leadership, company operations, Finance, HR, IT leadership, business development, innovation, and P&L in market research and retail industries.
My roles have ranged from entry-level project management to Chief Operating Officer, where I was part of some of the largest mergers in our industry. Now, I’m the President of CX at QuestionPro, where I help take my vision to technical reality – since they already have a great survey tool, I get to focus on how I can bring deeper business connections to the data.
What is the biggest misunderstanding about customer experience, in your opinion?
Customer Experience and Customer Service are not the same things. A quote attributed to Chris Zane says, “Customer Service is what happens when the Customer Experience breaks down.” I often read job descriptions for “Customer Experience Manager” that really mean “Customer Service Manager.” I don’t begrudge anyone for making that the title as they are, after all, part of the experience journey.
However, the customer experience journey starts before someone is a customer when they are just considering the brands they need or want. The experience spans from there all the way to the end of the brand/customer relationship. Every interaction is part of the experience – and a chance to make the customer more loyal – or lose the customer.
What are some of the newer CX companies/solutions you’re keeping your eyes on right now?
Online reputation companies have some of the most compelling positionings right now. Especially those that have the ability to engage the reviewer. There is much to be said about the impact that a review or rating has on those that read it, and the response to that is just as important. At QuestionPro, we have been integrating a tool like that for our clients and see quite a bit of promise with it.
Many of these companies say that they can “replace” surveys, which I would disagree with, but they definitely can supplement the data that is captured and can be leveraged to make the operational experience better for the customer. The other element of that is the ongoing effort to bring unstructured data to life.
There have been a few well know text analytics companies out there for quite some time, but I am seeing more exciting things that can happen when machine learning is brought into some of these ratings and reviews as well, such as being able to predict an NPS score based on the comments. I expect the surveys, reviews, and sentiment analysis to make some big leaps forward as a combination.
What can companies do to improve customer loyalty and retention?
My first instinct is to tell brands to run a customer experience study with a full view of the customer journey – but with fewer survey questions and more directed feedback. Of course, I would always recommend QuestionPro for that.
However, it starts before that. It is really about wanting to be a better brand for your customers. Then it is as simple as doing the small things correctly. It is like courtship; you have to do all those little things for the customer throughout the entire relationship. There will be ups and downs, but recovery can be even better than not listening at all. If you do the small things well, then it is easy to provide those “wow” moments.
My favorite example is Disney; if you are a first-time visitor to the park or you visit on or around your birthday, they’ll celebrate you with the “least expensive” souvenir from your visit. Simple, but memorable for good reasons.
What do you think is most relevant and why: CSAT (customer satisfaction score), NPS (net promoter score), or CES (customer effort score)?
NPS has a stranglehold on the most relevant right now. That is not to say it is the best or the one everyone should use; rather, NPS’s original promise is still relatable today.
One question, one open end to manage the customer experience. It is still relevant because it is a simple measure to understand while it is easy to measure up against the competition and aspirational brands. There are still some downsides; it is not a one-size-fits-all metric.
Too many researchers, under pressure to have that comparative measure, push this metric into surveys where it really was not intended to be – even worse, it becomes an awkward question in some surveys – I haven’t often made a recommendation to a friend or colleague about my computer operating system.
I am a big fan of the customer effort score, particularly surrounding problem resolution. Still, as we consider the survey experience as part of the customer experience, we should be thinking about improving that as well, which is behind the success of NPS. It is also why we rolled out NPS+, the same promise, but with one additional click, we offer root cause analytics and a churn risk score. When a metric can accomplish that, it will always have some traction.
How can companies better use social media in the era of customer-centricity and personalization?
Social media provides an opportunity for brands to exercise empathy at scale. Whether or not the customer is “right,” social media comments provide an outlet for them to share some raw emotion – both good and bad – about their experience.
I realize it can put a brand into a very defensive position, but it also provides an opportunity for that same brand to improve its image through its response. The other aspect is that any employee can read those comments if they cared enough to do so. T
hose comments show what can go wrong, traps we can fall into, and help the employees put themselves into the customers’ shoes – at scale. I recently had a discussion with Jonathan Hawkins from Anthrolytics about this exact topic. It is a great medium to understand the customer because you were not asking them for feedback; they had feedback to give though.
What is your opinion on AI-based chatbots to handle customer support?
They certainly have their place in some circumstances when used correctly. They are, sort of, the IVR/AVR of the web. Instead of using a phone to go through branching instead, the AI-bots use routing to help answer questions. The performance will improve as more data is recorded, but the biggest mistake I see some making is by trying to keep it simple – particularly for a sophisticated customer.
In taking it back to the IVR example, when I used to call the airline, it would have me go down menus then back up. Now when I call, if it is the same day as a flight, it will prompt me about that flight first before it may try to find other solutions. The same should be true with chatbots – the simple answers are usually easily found, especially by a loyal customer or sophisticated self-service user.
The other part of that goes back to empathy until they are able to quickly and easily differentiate between a customer that might be researching a product versus an irate customer that needs to speak with a human; they’ll still have a negative stigma as just a “cost-saving measure.”
What was the best movie you saw that has come out during this past year?
I’ll have to admit, I really enjoy working in CX and would much rather be helping a customer with their implementation than watching a movie. I have only watched one movie this year called “Finding Ohana.” I really only watched it so I could be looking that some of the filming locations of my new home state. Beyond that, the only other entertainment I take in on a regular basis is a show on History Channel called the “Curse of Oak Island.” I am a big fan of history and mystery, so this show fits into both categories.
Last but not least, what is your favorite CX metric?
That is a tough one, as most metrics have some relevance in the right circumstances. However, if I were to pick one ‘metric’ that stands out, it would be a non-standard index KPI. First, because it is multiple values, it becomes difficult to tie it back to a financial metric. It essentially blurs out the individual value of the metrics. Then it is rarely weighted appropriately and almost never weighted based on the importance of those individual attributes to individual customers. It also means you are asking more questions. Finally, while I have a complicated ‘relationship’ with benchmarking scores, an index makes it nearly impossible to benchmark – both internally and externally.